What Should Trump Do With the US Citizen Seized in Syria and Held in Iraq as an “Enemy Combatant”?

"Detainee Holding Cell": a US military sign, origin unknown.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

It’s nearly a month since my curiosity was first piqued by an article in the Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman, reporting that a US citizen fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria and was now in US custody. Ackerman followed up on September 20, when “leading national security lawyers” told him that the case of the man, who was being held by the US military as an “enemy combatant,” after surrendering to US-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria around September 12, “could spark a far-reaching legal challenge that could have a catastrophic effect on the entire war against ISIS.”

At the time, neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department would discuss what would happen to the unnamed individual, although, as Ackerman noted, “Should the Justice Department ultimately take custody of the American and charge him with a terrorism-related crime, further legal controversy is unlikely, at least beyond the specifics of his case.” However, if Donald Trump wanted to send him to Guantánamo (as he has claimed he wants to be able to do), that would be a different matter.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told Ackerman that, according to George W. Bush’s executive order about “war on terror” detentions, issued on November 13, 2001, and authorizing the establishment of military commissions, “United States citizens are excluded from being tried by Military Commissions, but nothing in that document prohibits detaining US citizens who have been identified as unlawful enemy combatants.” Read the rest of this entry »

Challenging the Nomination of 2005 “Torture Memo” Author Steven Bradbury as a Lawyer in the Trump Administration

Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK: Women for Peace challenges Steven G. Bradbury over his role as a "torture memo" author at his confirmation hearing as a Trump administration lawyer on June 28, 2017.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Yesterday (June 28), three members of Veterans for Peace — the US military veterans’ organization founded in 1985 and committed to building “a culture of peace” — interrupted the Senate confirmation hearing for Steven G. Bradbury, nominated by Donald Trump as general counsel for the Commerce, Science and Transportation Department, and were subsequently arrested. Videos are available here and here,

The three VFP members — Tarak Kauff, Ken Ashe and Ellen Barfield — were protesting about Bradbury’s role as one of the authors of the notorious “torture memos” under George W. Bush, and they were not alone. As the New York Times explained, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, told Bradbury at the hearing, “You lacked the judgment to stand up and say what is morally right when pressured by the president of the United States, and I’m afraid you would do so again.” She then “wagged her finger at Mr. Bradbury and accused him of having a dangerous ‘rubber stamp’ mentality,” and said, “I cannot oppose this nomination strongly enough.”

For my call for Steven Bradbury to be prosecuted — along with other senior Bush administration officials and lawyers — listen to my song ‘81 Million Dollars,’ performed with my band The Four Fathers.

The “torture memos” were written and approved in the Office of Legal Counsel (the branch of the Justice Department that is supposed to provide impartial advice to the executive branch), and the first examples were written by law professor John Yoo, and approved by Yoo’s boss, Jay S. Bybee. The memos sought to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA on Abu Zubaydah, seized in Pakistan in March 2002 and regarded as a “high-value detainee,” and approved a list of techniques that included waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning. Read the rest of this entry »

100 Days of Trump: Join Us in Telling Him to Close Guantánamo

Some of the Close Guantanamo supporters who have stood with posters calling on Donald Trump to close Guantanamo over the first 100 days of his presidency.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Saturday, Donald Trump will have been in office for 100 days, and all but his most deranged and devoted supporters must surely conclude that this has been the most shambolic and disappointing first 100 days of any presidency — as reflected in his historically low approval ratings. As we approach 100 days, Trump’s approval rating is just 44%, 11 points lower than Bill Clinton after 100 days, and 19 points lower than Barack Obama at the 100-day mark.

Trump’s sweeping and indefensible travel ban remains one of the low points of his presidency, an effort to target, by religion, seven Muslim-majority countries for a ban on all travel to the US, on the basis of a supposed terrorist threat that, to be blunt, doesn’t exist at all. Unfortunately, however, the racism of the travel ban continues to bleed into other aspects of Trump’s policies — his obsession with a wall between the US and Mexico, for example, and, for us at Close Guantánamo, his enthusiasm for keeping Guantánamo open and for sending new prisoners there.

In his first week in office, a leaked draft executive order found Trump threatening the worst possible scenario for Guantánamo and the US’s counter-terrorism policies — reviving torture and CIA “black sites,” and bringing new prisoners to Guantánamo. On torture, a barrage of criticism, including from prominent Republicans, including his own defence secretary  and others at the CIA, persuaded him to back down, but on Guantánamo a second leaked draft executive order found him still intending to bring new prisoners — Islamic State prisoners — to Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Life in Trump’s America and the Future of Guantánamo with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo on the Women's March in New York on January 21, 2017 (Photo: Liz Forman).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

Last week, I was delighted to speak to Chris Cook of Gorilla Radio, based in British Columbia, about life in Donald Trump’s America, and the current situation regarding the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The hour-long show is available here as an MP3, and my interview took up the first 24 minutes.

Chris and I have spoken many times before — generally at this time of the year, to reflect on the situation at Guantánamo around the time of the anniversary of its opening, on January 11. Check out our interviews in January 2014, January 2015 and January 2016.

For this year’s interview, I ran though the dying days of the Obama administration, pointing out how, despite President Obama’s promise, on his second day in office in January 2009, to close the prison, it remained open as he left office primarily because he had persistently failed to prioritize its closure throughout the previous eight years. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera, on Obama and Trump, Guantánamo and Torture

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on the website.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read Obama v Trump on Guantánamo and torture, my latest article for Al-Jazeera, and to share it if you find it informative.

Al-Jazeera asked me to compare and contrast the president and the president-elect in relation to Guantánamo, giving me an opportunity to run through the history of President Obama’s failures to close the prison, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009. I also briefly discussed Obama’s position on torture, and compared and contrasted Donald Trump’s views.

President Obama has repeatedly blamed Congress for his failure to close the prison, but in fact he had control of Congress in his first two years in office, but failed to capitalise on it, and later, although Congress raised considerable obstacles to his efforts to close the prison, he refused to use a waiver that existed in the legislation allowing him to bypass Congress, and he also refused, at any point, to make the closure of the prison a priority to the extent that he was prepared to properly challenge Congress and work with supportive lawmakers to find a way to get Guantánamo closed. Read the rest of this entry »

In Final Counter-Terrorism Speech, Obama Targets Trump But Fails to Acknowledge His Own Mistakes on Guantánamo and War

President Obama and a quote about Guantanamo from a speech he made on January 5, 2010.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Tuesday, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the home of US Special Operations Command and Central Command, President Obama made what is expected to be his final speech on counter-terrorism before he leaves office in just six weeks’ time.

As Jessica Schulberg noted for the Huffington Post, in his speech he “defended his legacy ― both from hawks who have accused him of withdrawing from the Middle East, and from liberals who have criticized his reliance on expansive surveillance and drones to fight wars,” and “sought to convince the country that he had struck the correct balance.”

Spying and drones

However, as Spencer Ackerman noted for the Guardian, this was “a highly selective account of his record, particularly about the mass surveillance architecture he embraced and the drone strikes that will be synonymous with his name.” Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump, Guantánamo and Torture: What Do We Need to Know?

An image made by supporters of Donald Trump based on his comments about Guantanamo.I wrote the following article (as “Donald Trump and Guantánamo: What Do We Need to Know?) for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

So the bad news, on Guantánamo, torture, Islamophobia and war, is that, as Charlie Savage explained in the New York Times this week, “As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing back waterboarding and a ‘hell of a lot worse’ — not only because ‘torture works,’ but because even ‘if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.’”

As Savage also noted, “It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk,” but it is a disturbing position for Americans — and the rest of the world — to be in, particularly with respect to the noticeable differences between Trump and Barack Obama.

The outgoing president has some significant failures against his name, which will be discussed in detail below, but America’s first black president did not, of course, appoint a white supremacist to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor, as Trump has done with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an alarming far-right US website. Nor did he call for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims, as Trump did last December, and nor did he suggest that there should be a registry of all Muslims, as Trump did last November. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Officials Confirm That Nearly 24 Guantánamo Prisoners Will Be Freed By the End of July

Cleared for release: a photo by Debra Sweet of the World Can't Wait.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last week there was confirmation that the Obama administration is still intent on working towards the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay before President Obama leaves office, when officials told Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian that there is an “expectation” within the administration that 22 or 23 prisoners will be released by the end of July “to about half a dozen countries.”

80 men are currently held, so the release of these men will reduce the prison’s population to 57 or 58 prisoners, the lowest it has been since the first few weeks of its existence back in 2002.

As the Guardian explained, however, the officials who informed them about the planned releases spoke on condition of anonymity, because “not all of the foreign destination countries are ready to be identified.” In addition, “some of the transfer approvals have yet to receive certification by Ashton Carter, the defense secretary, as required by law, ahead of a notification to Congress.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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